Suppliers, small businesses brace for GM plant changes

Companies to cut production, workers as shift is eliminated

A ripple effect is expected

April 14, 2000|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

The elimination of the second shift at General Motors Corp.'s Baltimore plant in July has suppliers and small business owners preparing for a ripple effect.

At least two manufacturers that supply a variety of parts -- including seats, frame structures and dashboards -- to the GM plant say they will alter their production schedules and cut jobs.

Even small businesses near the Broening Highway plant that are not involved with the assembling of parts for the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans say the economic impact from GM's plans will be significant.

Some businesses are planning to order fewer goods in response to the likelihood that GM could cut up to 1,200 jobs.

Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls Inc. has a manufacturing plant in Belcamp, employing about 300, that makes seats for the GM vans produced in Baltimore.

Dave Roznowski, a company spokesman, said the auto plant's plans mean about 50 of the company's workers will be shifted out of Maryland.

GM's Baltimore plant, like others around the country, operates under a just-in-time inventory system in which parts arrive at the loading dock as needed for vehicles moving along the assembly line.

"Our manufacturing production mirrors GM's," Roznowski said. "If they have three shifts, we have three shifts. If they have one shift, we have one shift."

The affected workers will be offered jobs in other Johnson Controls facilities, Roznowski said. The company has 100 plants in North America.

Johnson Controls' van seats account for about half of the output at the Harford County plant. Foam forms used in some Ford Motor Co. vehicles are also produced there.

About nine other Maryland-based manufacturers supply parts to GM's Baltimore plant.

The GM van plant is the only customer for Tower Automotive Group's Belcamp facility, said John Mangano, the company's operations leader.

Because GM has been discussing the possibility of cutting the second shift for a while, Tower has cut six of its 42 jobs through attrition.

"There will be additional, nominal adjustments made in July," Mangano said. "The numbers are not known now."

Meanwhile, the company has began an "active program to find replacement business," he said.

Monarch Manufacturing Inc., also in Belcamp, supplies dashboards and center consoles to GM.

A company spokeswoman said it is too early to tell how the company will respond. Its plant employs 90 hourly workers.

The extent of the local toll resulting from the scaling back at the GM plant is unknown, but it could be severe.

The state calculates that the assembly plant -- Baltimore's largest manufacturing employer -- pumps about $1 billion into the regional economy each year and creates 3,500 related jobs.

Many businesses surrounding the Broening Highway plant say they will most likely not escape economic implications from GM's plans.

Losing a second shift at the GM plant means owners of the 7-Eleven store at 1501 Broening Highway will have to adjust how many goods they order and how many of their 10 workers they schedule during peak hours.

"Any kind of decrease over there means a decrease for us," said Rose Rapaport, who has co-owned the 7-Eleven with her husband Mike for 16 years.

"I'm going to miss those guys," she said. "We know what they buy, what they eat and what they smoke."

Foula Minadakis, co-owner of Jimmy's Famous Seafood Restaurant at 6526 Holabird Ave. with her husband Jimmy for 25 years, said patronage from GM workers has helped build their business.

"GM gives us a lot of business during lunchtime, dinner and at the bar," she said. "The workers come here to cash their checks.

"Whatever happens there affects us. When they were on strike, it affected us, and now this will.

"I wish there was something the government could do about this. I don't understand why other businesses are booming and GM can't make it."

Minadakis and other business owners and managers say they are fortunate that they are near other businesses in Holabird Industrial Park and at the port of Baltimore.

The Little Tavern hamburger shop at 6414 Holabird Ave. has a help-wanted sign in the window.

"Lunchtime is always hectic around here, and I don't think the changes at the GM plant will change that," said Louise Chaillou, who has managed the restaurant for four years.

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